War Over Hardware Store's Huge Signs Raging On

April 04, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

Neighbors called it an illegal, 40-foot eyesore towering above an adjoining neighborhood, its glaring lights shining into backyards.

The mega-sign, with a gigantic Blockbuster Video movie ticket poking out at a hard angle atop another lighted hardware store sign, simply didn't belong in Severna Park, community leaders said.

They won half the battle when workers from Blockbuster came out with their tools in February, lopped off the oversized movie ticket and removed two other signs cited by county enforcement officers invoking a widely ignored sign ordinance.

But the truncated version of the sign tower still stands where it has been since August, outside the building shared by Blockbuster and Clement's Hardware.

Gordon Clement, the owner of the store, a Severna Park fixture for more than two decades, is fighting to keep the sign where it is -- as opposed to20 feet away, which is the distance that separates an illegal sign from a legal one in a dispute the county zoning enforcement officer calls a "classic comedy of errors."

Why, Clement asks, should he be forced to spend a small fortune to move an $8,000 sign -- along with 30,000 pounds of concrete -- a mere 20 feet to comply with county land-use restrictions? County officials approved the sign and declared it legal before it was erected, he said.

Clement will pose that question, once again, at a hearing later this month or next month beforea county hearing officer.

The owner of the hardware store, near Ritchie Highway and Robinson Road, is seeking exceptions that would allow him to keep his sign and another affixed to the building, which faces Ritchie Highway.

Clement dismissed the community leaders' gripes as petty: "There will always be some people who have nothing better to do, and they always seem to be the ones who end up on boards and such. But I can tell you they're absolutely not representative of the people around here."

The county order to remove the signs? "Ridiculous bureaucratic nonsense," Clement said.

"Here we have a caseof potential business hardship brought about by an error on the partof the county," he said. "So now I'm supposed to move a sign 20 feetover some legality?"

The dispute arose because of outdated zoningmaps county officials relied on in approving the signs to begin with, said Richard Gauch, the county's chief of land-use enforcement.

Those maps improperly listed bordering property as commercial in the June 1989 permit application. The designation had been changed to residential in February 1989.

The signs violated county law because they sat within 50 feet of residential property, but nobody realized that at the time, Gauch said.

Walter Sosnoski owns the adjoining property, where his home sits, as well as the building housing Blockbuster and Clement's. Sosnoski expanded the store to make room for Blockbuster and a larger Clement's Hardware in 1989, Gauch said.

As theGreater Severna Park Council and the North Severna Park Council press ahead with the battle over the suburban skyline, both of Clement's signs will remain until a hearing officer decides the case, Gauch said.

Clement failed in an earlier bid to have a hearing officer reverse the county order to remove the sign on his building facade. Now he is seeking a variance for both that sign and the freestanding one.

Gauch said he understands the frustration, for both Clement and nearby residents.

"It's really hard to fault anybody here," he said.

"The whole thing just kind of snowballed into this classic comedyof errors, and Mr. Clement is trying his best to salvage what he canout of it.

"But," he added, "the whole reasoning behind this particular ordinance is to keep lighted signs from disrupting residentialneighborhoods, and this sign clearly is a disruption of a residential neighborhood."

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